Super Remotes Page 2


Philips Your own private program guide

The Short Form
$599 / 5.625 x 4 x 1 IN / / 888-744-5477
•Easy, computer-free programming. •Stream digital music files through docking station. •Free, built-in TV program guide. •View photos via Wi-Fi on the touchscreen.
•Only IR control (no RF or Wi-Fi). •No customization of screens. •Requires two-handed operation.
Key Features
•3.5-inch (diagonal), 320 x 240-pixel LCD touchscreen •Computer-free setup •Wi-Fi streaming of music and photos from networked computers •Electronic program guide
That Philips would be one of the first to market with a remote for the new digital age comes as no surprise. The company revolutionized the remote-control world by introducing the Pronto, the first affordable touchscreen remote, in 1998. Nonetheless, setting up a Pronto is so complex that many owners hire a professional installer to do it. In contrast, Philips designed the RC9800i so that even the most technophobic user can set it up solo. At first glance, the remote resembles a digital camera with its large LCD touchscreen. While the 320 x 240-pixel screen resolution is great for photo viewing, the remote's size and horizontal orientation can make one-handed operation difficult. But I'm getting ahead of myself ...

SETUP An initial menu screen asks if you'll be using the remote with a wireless network. I said yes, and the remote automatically found my Wi-Fi connection, grabbed an IP (Internet protocol) address, and downloaded the correct time. Cool! Next up is designating rooms that the RC9800i will control, clearly showing that this remote is designed to break out of single-system boundaries. Once all your rooms are assigned, you add specific components to be controlled to each room's profile. Select a device type, and a list of brands appears. When you select a brand, the remote offers possible matches from its control-code library. If none work (or none are available), it can learn the codes from your original handset. Finally, the remote walks you through some steps to determine whether your gear uses discrete power on/off commands, how inputs are selected, and so on.

Once all devices have been entered, an Activities setup screen appears that ties everything together. For instance, you might tell the remote that you use your receiver and your TV when watching a DVD and that the TV needs to be set to its Video 3 input. This whole "interview" process took less than an hour for my two-room setup, which included teaching the Philips remote all the codes for two components that weren't in its database.

With the programming finished, I headed to the Philips Web site, where I registered for the free electronic program guide (EPG). Once you're registered, the guide automatically updates itself as long as a Wi-Fi Internet connection is present. I also installed and set up the Philips Media Manager software on my PC from the supplied CD-ROM (a Mac version is also supplied). This allows you to specify folders - such as My Music or My Pictures - on any networked computers that contain music or video you want to access.

PERFORMANCE The RC9800i's interface is terrifically simple and effective. Select the room to control and choose from the list of Activities categorized under Watch, Listen, or Browse. Selecting Watch displays activities like "Watch DVD" and "Watch cable" that are applicable to the room you're in. Listen displays nonvideo activities, and Browse offers a menu of networked devices. Choosing an activity fires up the room's system accordingly. If something gets out of sorts, touching the "?" icon produces a screen with power and input buttons to help get everything back on track.

0601_superremotes_philips200For a remote at this price - and with the Pronto pedigree behind it - I expected at least some ability to customize. But you can't even rename, resize, relocate, or delete buttons from the touchscreen's display. Eight generically labeled Function buttons can be used for nonstandard commands, but they don''t appear under the Activities page. Since I liked using the EPG - which appears only on the Activities page - I had to cycle between several screens to access the guide and then the buttons for my cable box. Also, the ability to control remote gear via radio-frequency (RF) or Wi-Fi instead of only infrared (IR) would have been welcome for homes with multiroom audio or video distribution or with hidden gear.

Still, this remote has some tricks up its sleeve. One is the free EPG. If your TV doesn't have a program guide or you want to use a CableCARD, this service will be invaluable. Even though I have a guide through my cable box, using the RC9800i to scan for shows on the sly while my wife watched one of those endless remodeling shows was pretty slick.

As I mentioned, the large screen pretty much ruled out one-handed operation. That could be an inconvenience for some people in day-to-day use. But the ability to stream music and photos from your laptop or desktop to the remote should put you in a forgiving mood. Listening to music over the remote's built-in speaker is definitely neat. Better yet, pop the remote into its docking station and run a stereo minijack-to-RCA cable to your receiver, and you've got a super cool way to blast MP3 songs from your computer through your main system. If you don't have a media server, this feature transforms the remote into another source component! Too bad the dock won't stream photos to your TV, too.

BOTTOM LINE Judged strictly as a remote control, the RC9800i might come up short compared with others at its price because it lacks any customization, making it tough to totally consolidate all your remotes. But factor in its music streaming, photo viewing, and program guide, and its added value can quickly make up for the shortfall.